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City To Conduct Annual Count Of Chicago's Homeless

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Happening tonight: the city's annual, one-night count of Chicago's homeless population.

The city hopes it will help answer a lingering question: how does the financial toll of a pandemic affect homelessness?

Morning Insider Tim McNicholas shows us how the count will work.

A long, cold night awaits David Wywialowski, but the hand warmers he's carrying aren't for him. They're for the people he'll encounter as he helps the City of Chicago count its homeless population.

"They could be in a tent, they might be sitting outside, they might be sitting inside a fast food restaurant, so we're looking all over for people who are unsheltered," he said.

The annual count is done by 35 teams made up of volunteers for the city, several nonprofits, and homeless outreach groups like The Night Ministry--where Wywialowski works.

"From 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. the teams will visit homeless encampments throughout the city, to count how many people are sleeping outside," he said.

Prior to that, shelters will report the number of people sleeping inside.

"A one-night snapshot of people experiencing homelessness," said Maura McCauley with the city's Department of Family and Support Services.

McCauley says those teams will also survey people on their needs.

"These numbers help us identify really what our shelter count looks like, resources that we might need for shelter," she said.

This a big year for the count -- because last year's data was incomplete.

Due to COVID, the city used fewer volunteers and changed their counting techniques.

This year, the methods still won't be quite the same -- but McCauley says it will give a clearer glimpse at how the pandemic affects homelessness.

"Based on what we were seeing pre-COVID, and now the exacerbations of the pandemic, I would not be surprised if there was an increase," McCauley said.

One big difference from last year? Volunteers will once again count people staying on CTA trains and buses.

As always, volunteers will try to get the people they find into shelters and out of the bitter cold.

The count is mandated by the federal government, and it's done in January because it's easier to count everyone when more people are staying in shelters.

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